Dog lovers, there’s a new health warning we want you to know about: When it comes to feeding your dog snacks, think of ‘sugar free’ as ‘doggy free.’ That’s the basic message of a new report we found in the San Diego Union-Tribune. Veterinarians say there’s been a spike in food poisoning cases among dogs in recent years, and many blame a chemical called xylitol. What’s that?

Xylitol’s an artificial sweetener used in a growing number of snack foods – from sugarless gum to sugarless pudding. It’s completely harmless to humans, because our bodies are so large. However, for dogs, xylitol can be deadly. That’s because the chemical causes a temporary drop in blood sugar levels. When that happens to animals the size of a dog, the brain stops getting the energy it needs to function, and dogs become lethargic and disoriented. If blood sugar drops low enough, dogs may have a seizure, and without treatment, they can die! While the amount of xylitol used in food varies from product to product, experts say a little bit can go a long way. For example: The amount contained in just two sticks of sugarless gum could be enough to kill a 20-pound dog, and a single serving of sugarless pudding could hold enough xylitol to kill a 90-pound dog!

Sharon Brant is vice president of the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center. She says it’s important to know that not all sugarless products contain xylitol. So, if you have any doubts about the snacks your dog got into while you were out running errands, go ahead and check the ingredients. However, if you know or suspect your dog’s gotten into food that contains this ingredient, you’re urged to take them to the vet immediately! That’s because xylitol poisoning can turn deadly in as little as half an hour. Vets will have the monitoring equipment needed to check if your dog’s blood sugar is too low. They’ll also have the treatments needed to help bring a dog’s blood sugar back up to a safe level.